The eminent Peter Elbow, whose work around literacy with such books as Writing Without Teachers and Writing with Power led the way to completely revamping the ways in which we nurture young writers, recently released a book about the importance of everyday speech in our literary lives. The book — Vernacular Eloquence — was at the heart of his keynote address to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s fall conference earlier this month. Elbow allowed me to videotape his talk for WMWP.
What I found fascinating is the point of how much we devalue common talk as a form of literacy, and how Elbow notes that formal education often snuffs out the phrases and pauses, and syntax, of how we talk when our guard is down. He notes, rightly, that segments of our population feel left out of the definition of “literacy” because the academic world does not value their speech.
I also enjoyed the connection Elbow made to how we “feel” our words, on our tongue and in our heart, and that when our language is at odds with those emotions and experiences, our thoughts become disjointed and inauthentic. By examining how we speak and whether we value the ways in which we speak, Elbow is hoping to show the value of the vernacular in our definitions of what it means to be writer and communicator. As Bruce Penniman pointed out during the discussion phase of Elbow’s talk, the new Common Core does put more value on the aspects of Speaking and Listening, but that all examples and references seem to point more towards formal expectations, not daily vernacular.
Here are some excerpts from Peter Elbow’s talk at WMWP:
Peace (in the way we speak),